Friday, July 10, 2015

Why We Moved to East Portland

We used to live in Southwest Portland. Southwest is known for its hills, peaceful neighborhoods, and low crime rates. We now live in East Portland. The east side is known for its lack of sidewalks, cheaper housing, and higher crime rates. 

So, why did we choose to live in East Portland?

Many people we know seem to be a bit confused as to why we moved to a neighborhood that would definitely not be considered "family-friendly," especially when we are expecting our third child to be born anytime now. In fact, we really want to live here. There are a number of reasons why: God has called us to be here, we were priced out of our old apartment, and we have community here. 

First and foremost, God has made it clear to us that He wants us here. We are members of a great church in Portland, Imago Dei Community. We have loved what God is doing through this group ever since we have lived in the city. The church is located in inner Southeast Portland, within walking distance of the river. Imago decided to form an Eastside campus at about the same time we were thinking about moving out of our 2-bedroom apartment in Southwest. Jen and I both felt like the Holy Spirit was telling us that we were being called back to the east side. We used to live at Burnside and 143rd before we had kids and before my teaching jobs moved our family around to different locations in the state. God was apparently providing a path for us to return.

East Portland has been often regarded as "neglected" by city officials and is arguably one of the most needy areas of Multnomah County. As the diagram to the right shows, crime is relatively high in this area, and we moved smack dab into one of those red spots, which indicates that residential robberies is "well above average." The funny thing about this not seeming like a "family-friendly" area is that many young families actually live in East Portland. 28% of the city's total population lives here, but it is home to 37% of the city's school-age children (source). We have an opportunity to make a difference here. God is at work on the east side, and we want to be a part of it. James wrote that faith without works is dead. We believe that God love the people in this part of the city just as much as any other area. If there is a need for help, then my question is... why aren't more Christians coming to live here? We want to act in response to our faith, so to us, this is a no-brainer.

"East PDX is Getting Poorer and Angrier"
Secondly, we live in East Portland because we were priced out of Southwest. Our rent kept increasing more and more each year in the 2-bedroom apartment we lived in previously. Living in Multnomah Village was an ideal location because I was able to walk to work, it was equidistant between my parents and our friends, and we were a stone's throw from an I-5 on-ramp. However, with our third child due to be born this summer, we knew two bedrooms would be too cramped. We couldn't find any affordable 3-bedroom apartments in Southwest, so we knew we had to look elsewhere. East Portland is known for its cheaper housing, and since we already knew the area, it seemed natural to look there. The unfortunate reality that many struggling families find themselves in is that if they have to move to a particular area, then other costs increase. For example, now that we live on the east side, I have to commute to work. We needed to get another car and pay for the gas and insurance that goes with it (I would love to take TriMet, but three hours round trip each day would be suicide for Riedl family morale).

To be completely honest, we actually feel like we fit in here, financially speaking. Our neighbors on the east side drive crappy cars, are on food stamps, and have a hard time making ends meet. We are in the same boat. Like many low-income families, we are struggling to keep our heads above water. We feel like we can identify with a lot of the difficulties people face in our neighborhood. In Southwest Portland, we felt like outsiders.

The third reason we really want to be in East Portland is that we have community here. Living in the Glenfair Neighborhood before we had kids, we helped start the Glenfair Community Garden, which was a great way to meet our neighbors and help those who can benefit from fresh produce. We got to know people in the area from church, grew to be friends, and now hope to do more of the same, especially now that Imago has an Eastside campus. We now live in the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood, just off 122nd and Division. Driving down Division in this area certainly isn't as welcoming as driving down Capitol Hwy in Multnomah Village. They are polar opposites.

East Portland is also known for being more culturally diverse. According to the image to the right, the black, Asian, and Hispanic populations have been increasing while the white population is decreasing. Imago Eastside seeks to also be intentionally diverse--not just another white church in a diverse neighborhood--rather, a body representing the area it is located. There are already more races and ethnicities represented than the typical Portland church, which is something I am proud to say I'm a part of. With all the racial issues surrounding our country at a time like this with Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston, we want to be a part of what is going on. We don't want to just look from afar and spit out our opinion from time to time, thinking that words are enough to make a difference. No. It takes more than just words. It takes action.

Since action is what makes a difference rather than just talking about it, that is where I begin to wrap this up. We know that we want to be where the problems are so we can help make a difference. However, we are not done by just moving here. This is only the beginning. We need to step outside of our apartment and meet people. We need to remember their names and get to know them. Our goal in life is to love God and love our neighbors. We need to find a place or a way to volunteer regularly. There are other churches and non-profits who are already here following God's call to help their neighbors and we need to find them and work together. There is so much pain in this world and it's so much more apparent here than it is in Southwest. Christ has led us into a place that is uncomfortable, and that's a good thing.